Gideon was the fifth judge over Israel in the book of Judges. He is introduced in chapter 6 of the book while he was collecting wheat and hiding it from the enemy. An angel came to him and asked him to take on the task of overthrowing the Midianites.
The story of Gideon is full of little lessons that we can learn today. This story is a popular children’s story for Sunday School, but it is very applicable for adults as well.
While Gideon was threshing wheat an angel spoke to him and addressed him as a mighty man of valor. Some people see this as humorous because Gideon was hiding from the enemy and Gideon’s response was that he came from a poor family and was not a hero. However, I think Gideon was acting very heroically and that his response was a response of humility, not fear. Here’s why.
Who else was out threshing wheat for the nation while the enemy loomed around them? The Bible does not say who was or was not (besides Gideon), but I imagine many people were hiding at home and possibly starving because the Midianites besieged the land (Judges 6:1-6). Gideon was out there actively doing something for his people.
Gideon’s response to the angel was one of humility. The angel said that Gideon would save Israel (Judges 6:14). Gideon had already questioned the angel harshly. He asked that if God was for Israel, where was He now. Had God abandoned them? When the angel replied that God was sending Gideon to lead Israel into battle Gideon said that he was from a poor humble family. God responded through the angel that Gideon would lead the country to victory.
If Gideon were a coward, as many suggest, he would have continued to argue. But Gideon knew the scriptures and understood the power of God. Gideon knew that God could do what He said He would do. However, Gideon asked God to prove Himself several times in the story. Right after this first conversation Gideon asked the messenger of God to stick around and enjoy a meal with him. He got more than he asked for when the angel took the meal and made a sacrifice to God with it (Judges 6:18-24).
Altar of Baal
The first big task God asked of Gideon was to overthrow the altar of Baal that the people of Israel had erected. He was then to build an altar to God. Gideon knew he was going to make people mad when he did this. He took ten servants with him and they destroyed the altar at night so that no one knew who had done it.
The next morning it was discovered that Gideon was the one to blame for destroying their idol. The men of Israel were upset and wanted Gideon to be delivered to them so that they could kill him on behalf of Baal. Gideon’s father said that if Baal had been a true god then Baal could kill Gideon himself. Needless to say, Gideon was not killed (Judges 6:25-32).
Gideon called on the men from the surrounding area to join him and build an army against the Midianites. When they came together Gideon again asked God to confirm that he was doing the right thing in preparing for war.
Gideon set out a sheepskin, or a fleece, and asked God to make the fleece full of dew, but the ground around the fleece dry. That night the fleece was saturated and the ground was dry. Then Gideon asked for the opposite to happen the next night. The fleece would be dry and the ground wet if God wanted Gideon to proceed to mount an attack against the enemy (Judges 6:36-40)
Maybe you have heard of “putting out a fleece” to confirm something would or would not happen. That phrase comes from this story in the Bible.
Too Many Men
Gideon was convinced that God wanted him to lead this group of men who had gathered around him. But God said that Gideon had too many men. God wanted Israel to know that it was not the might of 32,000 men that saved Israel, but God Himself. God asked Gideon to pare down his army.
Gideon said that the men who were afraid to go to battle were welcome to return home. It must have been disheartening to see 22,000 men turn around and walk away. But Gideon was left with 10,000 brave men (Judges 7:2, 3).
Even though these men were brave, they were not all wise. God asked Gideon to take them down to the river and watch them drink. The number of those who drank while keeping guard of their surroundings was 300 men. The other 9,700 bowed down to the water losing sight of potential enemy attacks. God said that the 300 would become Gideon’s army to fight against the Midianites (Judges 7:4-8). According to Judges 8:10 there were at least 135,000 enemy troops against Gideon’s 300 soldiers.
An Encouraging Dream
Gideon and his men prepared themselves for battle. God told Gideon and his servant to go down into the camp of the Midianites and hear some encouraging news. They listened in while one soldier told his dream to another. The dream was that a great barley loaf rolled into the camp and flattened a tent. The second soldier said that the dream meant that Gideon and the Israelites would destroy the camp of Midian (Judges 7:9-14).
Gideon and his servant returned to the troops excited about what God was going to do through them.
Gideon prepared his men. They were each equipped with a lamp and a horn. The lamp was covered in a pitcher so that their lights did not shine out yet. Gideon spread out the 300 men on the hillside into 3 companies.
They crept down toward the camp with their eye on Gideon. He instructed them that when he blew his trumpet and broke the pitcher containing the lamp, the soldiers were to do the same. They also yelled out, “the sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”
When they all broke their pitchers and blew their trumpets (creating a great noise) the men inside the enemy camp awoke with fear. Gideon’s men yelled out, but did not attack. They stood their ground and did not engage the enemy. The Bible does not say that Gideon’s men had any kind of weapons, only trumpets, broken pitchers and lamps (Judges 7:15-22).
The enemy soldiers began fighting those around them instead of with Gideon and his men. Those who survived the self-inflicted battle fled to the outer regions of Israel—right into the home territory of the 30,000 soldiers who were sent home previously. These out of work soldiers then rose up and picked off the enemy army as they fled through their land (Judges 7:23-8:3).
Gideon and his 300 continued to pursue the enemy until they captured kings and princes of the enemy armies. Gideon’s victory won the respect of the Hebrew nation. They wanted him to become their king and lead the country. Gideon refused saying that God would lead Israel.
The fear of Gideon and his mighty army spread throughout the region. During his pursuit of the enemy armies, Gideon had trouble from some of the tribes of Israel that would not give food to Gideon’s army so that they could continue to fight. Gideon came back and slew those uncooperative men. The fear of Gideon and his men was great enough that Israel lived in peace and worshiped God for the next 40 years until Gideon’s death (Judges 8).
Lessons from Gideon
Gideon learned to trust God step by step. If the angel had told Gideon that he would defeat the 135,000 person army of the Midianites with just 300 men, Gideon would have had an impossible time believing that the message really was from God. God led him step by step. Paring down the army in such a way that Gideon knew God was in control.
The purpose for having such a small army was that God wanted Israel to know that it was He, and not Gideon and his men, who defeated the enemy (Judges 7:2).
What is it God wants you to do? Do you find it impossible to believe? The truth is, whatever God wants from you, it probably will be even more impossible than you could imagine. Yet, when you obey Him and trust Him each step of the way, it will make sense what He wants you to do. God is accomplishing His purposes on earth through men and women today. It is a great thing to be obedient to God and be part of His plan.
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The Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV)